Law & politics

A milestone General Election?

The snap General Election called by Theresa May could represent an inflection point in politics says Professor of Business and Political Economy Tim Evans

Tim Evans, Professor of Business and Political Economy, shares his thoughts on the surprise General Election announcement by Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday.

So, Prime Minister Theresa May has called for a snap General Election on Thursday 8 June 2017. While the Prime Minister required the support of two-thirds of MPs to go to the country, there was never any serious doubt that she would receive the overwhelming support of the House of Commons for such a dramatic step in a nation’s democratic life.

Reportedly leading in the opinion polls by 15-20 percent, Theresa May and the Conservatives clearly believe that they can not only win a substantial majority in the House of Commons but that in reaffirming their mandate they can also strengthen greatly their negotiating hand with Brussels over Brexit.

Ultimately, the Prime Minister has invoked the mantle of ‘unity at Westminster’ in an attempt to move beyond a fragile working majority of just 17 in the House of Commons.

Polling Station (Image: secretlondon123 (CC BY-SA 2.0))

Riding high

Riding high in national opinion polls and polling ahead of the opposition on almost every area of substantive policy, the Conservatives are not only out to win a dramatically increased majority in the House of Commons but they also want to lay to rest an issue that has divided them – and many others in the country – for nearly half a century: the UK’s constitutional relationship with much of continental Europe.

While Labour remains ahead of the Conservatives on the NHS and social care, many in and around the Labour Party worry as to how Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of hard left ‘democratic socialism’ will go down with the electorate. Some commentators believe it will not take much for Labour, vying with a staunchly pro-EU Liberal-Democrat party, or in many heartlands a staunchly anti-EU UKIP, to lose anything up to 30 or 40 seats.

Everything to play for

Whatever the outcome, and at this stage no one can be sure, it is likely that a few on the hard left of the Labour Party will remain relaxed about the result however bad it may be. For them, changing the party’s rules, constitution and make up demands a much longer-term process. Perhaps with a revolutionary eye cast on the 2030s or beyond some in their ranks will be happy to see a number of ‘right wing Labour’ MPs leave Parliament at this election in the hope that a new cadre of hard-line socialists will follow on and eventually chime with the electorate.

Whatever the case, the longer-term direction and boundary of discourse surrounding UK politics has rarely appeared to be less predictable or more fluid.

If, on the other hand, the strongly Europhile and revitalised Liberal-Democrats do well and Labour and UKIP continue to decline then maybe this election will go down in history for having heralded a fundamental realignment of British politics away from the Tory versus Labour discourse beloved of the 20th century, back towards an older Tory versus Liberal discourse rooted in the 19th.

Whatever the case, the longer-term direction and boundary of discourse surrounding UK politics has rarely appeared to be less predictable or more fluid. Whilst most members and devotees of the established major parties will no doubt console themselves that there is ‘everything to play for’ and ‘six weeks is a long time in politics’, even if the Conservatives do win the election with an enhanced majority, the longer-term direction of discourse, policy and ideas looks far from settled.

As is the case in many other countries around the world, how the coming 4th industrial revolution makes its mark on our political economy and how this is mediated in the electoral sphere of politics, will not only be the stuff of this election but no doubt many more to come over the years and decades ahead. It is in this sense, as an inflection and punctuation point, that this election is important. For it stands as a potential milestone between the politics of the 20th century and something fundamentally different and renewed.

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